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The lawyers of an Alabama inmate who would have been a test subject for the experimental execution method of nitrogen hypoxia has asked judges to reject the state's request to carry out his death sentence using nitrogen. This comes after the inmate initially welcomed the experimental execution method.
A court filing from Friday indicated that attorneys for Kenneth Smith asked the Alabama Supreme Court to turn down the state attorney's request to set an execution date for Smith using the proposed execution method, per the Associated Press. Though nitrogen gas is authorized for use in three different states, the method has never been used to put an inmate to death.
Smith's attorneys claimed that the state has released only a little information about how the nitrogen executions would actually work. There was only a redacted copy of the proposed protocol, per the report.
“The state seeks to make Mr. Smith the test subject for the first ever attempted execution by an untested and only recently released protocol for executing condemned people by the novel method of nitrogen hypoxia,” Smith’s attorneys stated.
Under the experimental method, the inmate would experience hypoxia by breathing in only nitrogen, depriving him of oxygen required to maintain minimum bodily function. The report noted that nitrogen makes up 78% of the air humans breathe and that it is harmless when inhaled alongside oxygen.
Though there have been claims that the proposed method would be painless, some have argued that it would amount to human experimentation.
The attorneys added that Smith had already been subjected to one failed execution attempt in November, when the state attempted to put him to death by lethal injection. However, the Alabama Department of Corrections soon called off the execution when those in charge could not connect two intravenous lines to Smith, per the report.
Alabama reportedly authorized the use of nitrogen hypoxia in 2018, but the state has yet to use it as a method of putting an inmate to death. Oklahoma and Mississippi have also authorized the method, but neither state has used it.
Smith was convicted in a 1988 murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Sennett in Colbert County. Prosecutors claimed that Smith was one of the two men who were apparently paid $1,000 to kill Sennett on behalf of her husband, who was under a lot of debt and wanted to collect on insurance.
The second man convicted in the killing was executed in 2010. Charles Sennett, Elizabeth's husband, committed suicide after he learned that investigators had identified him as a possible suspect.
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